Frankly, the cave level was terrible - the sort of ultra-directed, barely interactive display that's antithetic to the very things games are supposed to be good at in the first place. No emergence or discovery, no real interaction; just linear progression without the payoff of either comedy or drama.
Well, no decent drama. It wasn't a surprise when the cave-sneaking ended in a place-the-C4-charges-on-the-glowing-spots-and-then-run-like-hell-through-a-corridor sequence.
At the same time as we were bored and disappointed with that rifle-less spelunking though, it was also clear that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 has made some clear advances on the first game. The stealth may have been forced, but the system itself was reliable enough to stop enemies spotting us through walls, for example. Likewise, the new CryEngine 3-supported graphics were truly impressive.
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It was the previous level which acted as a far better showcase, however. The environment may still have been artless and predictable, but romping through a series of enemy outposts on a tropical island was still fun even if you could one-shot enemies with a sniper-shot to the big toe.
Some of the challenges along the way were refreshingly hard too, with health packs and armour only showing up rarely and enemy patrol routes laid out to allow only narrow windows of opportunity. It took us at least four or five attempts to complete the mission, though when we did we found it ended in another run-away-from-imminent-destruction sequence. Maybe it's a motif.
We even tried a few different tactics along the way too - though 'tactics' is perhaps a grandiose term for what usually boils down to 'Do I kill them from the left or right of this narrow ravine?' Only twice were there areas where we felt we could take legitimately different approaches and in both cases the linearity soon resumed afterwards - though the areas themselves were appreciable for allowing moments of tactical expression.
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The issue though is that, as a game, Sniper 2 basically works. We may struggle to get excited about Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 and it's lack of ambition, but at the same time we can't really fault it in terms of its design as a product. It's a shooter made in the cookie-cutter mould that shooters are made in these days and it's clear when you're playing it that it's not trying to be anything else.
In fact, if you think things should be judged only by how well they deliver on intent, then Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 might be a perfect game. It doesn't try to be smart or innovative or clever... it doesn't try for huge spectacle or tiny details ...it just tries to hold your attention in the same way as a mindless action film, albeit one without a blockbuster budget.
Lack of ambition shouldn't be taken as a plus point though, clearly - and the reality is that if you're looking for an action game in that mould then there are dozens on the market. So, while we can't really condemn Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 on any tangible or objective grounds for the moment, we'll remain blithely unexcited until we've have chance to sample some more.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 will be released in 2013, when it will be published by Namco Bandai on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.